The Skills That Insights Leaders of the Future Will Need

Josie Sanderson

Pitch It: The Business Case for Customer Salience

As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    To lead the way in market research, insight professionals need a wide range of skills; as times change and the industry becomes ever-more competitive, are the skills required changing? To ensure that they continue to stay in front, what are the skills that insights leaders of the future need? To answer this, we need to explore the future direction of market research and how this may change the skills required to lead insight.

    Skills for New Technologies

    If we think about what our insight leaders are trying to achieve, at the simplest level it is to find ways of understanding that ‘thing’ which makes a difference. The difference in question might be a difference of behaviour, perception or thought process, but understanding the cause of that difference is where our insights lie. In the future, insights leaders will need a whole new range of skills whilst also continuing to use the most effective of their current skill set.

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    To lead the way in market research, insight professionals need a wide range of skills; as times change and the industry becomes ever-more competitive, are the skills required changing?

    Cutting through the inaccuracies of responses given by participants when they are embarrassed, trying to please, or are simply mistaken, the use of neuroscience technologies such as eye-tracking, EEG (electro-encephalogram) or FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to record a person’s subconscious responses to a product or a concept opens the new door of neuro-marketing. Professionals leading in insights will need to be able to interpret this information to determine what is useful from the typical ‘white noise’.

    Back in 2016, the AMA included in their key take-aways from their summer conference, comments by Liam Fahey that companies shouldn't “even think about doing insight work unless [they] first immerse [themselves] in neuroscience”. But what percentage of the skills of insight leaders will be focused on neuroscience, and what percentage will focus on the space in between this data? Olivia Galvin argues that “advances in neuroscience, emotion recognition and VR” will equip us to gain insights from exploring the tensions between what participants do, and what they say they do. Stepping into the science and developing skills which will allow them to combine insights from neuroscience technology and the data from more frequently used methodologies will allow insights professionals to find these answers.

    There is also much conversation about the rise of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in market research – both in the gathering and analysis of data. FlexMR’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Martin heeds that insight professionals should explore the full range of applications offered by AI. It will be crucial for them to have the skills required to interpret the data unlocked by this new technology. A perhaps overlooked area of skills to develop will be enhanced qualitative research skills: AI can make previously rigid data collection methods, for example surveys, become more flexible and human-like through chat-bots and natural language processing, opening up the opportunities for qualitative research on scale. AI is likely to take over some analysis roles, largely out of necessity due to the capabilities for the collection of big data, but this will push insight leaders towards responsibility for interpreting said data on a deeper level.

    Communication Skills

    At a time when his contemporaries were focussed on identifying subconscious motivation, not through neuroscience or AI, but through psychoanalysis, psychologist Gordon Allport countered that if the goal was to know something about a person, why not just ask him? Provocative within his field in the early part of the 20th century, Allport’s statement could resonate for market research insights now. As we become better able to predict behaviour through the collection of complex data, insight leaders must not lose their skills in effectively asking, and listening to, their participants.

    Customer Service Skills

    At the current point in time, interactions with research participants are in the majority conducted online as part of ongoing consumer panels and communities, or standalone research projects, therefore insight professionals need to have the skills to maintain engagement within these populations.

    This requires the skills to effectively manage ‘customer service’ - whether this is rewarding participants with incentives appropriately or ensuring that there is a continuous loop of feedback on the progressions their information has contributed to, insight leaders must be able to make the people at the source of their data feel valued and engaged. Having highly polished customer service skills is key to understanding and delivering what a sample needs, so that when the need arises to make informed decisions the insight they provide is already at the researcher’s fingertips.

    Soft Skills

    Research analysts can be trained how to conduct a project, how to code, and how to use analysis software, but insight leaders of the future need to develop softer skills both personally and within their teams. Market research can all too easily become formulaic, especially when projects are flowing thick and fast and, as discussed, increasing amounts of analysis are becoming automated.

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    The key is to keep tight hold of the more fundamental and timeless skills, while looking to the future and embracing new tools and techniques which will only enhance their existing skill-sets.

    Those who lead will be those who run teams which naturally collaborate and have the ability to empathise with their target sample, the creativity to find a novel approach to a brief and the critical thinking to question what has been found.

    These future insight teams should include story-tellers, philosophers, and counsellors – not necessarily in the literal sense, but those individuals who are interested in people and get to ‘the change’ by unpicking and feeling what is happening in their samples. Certainly, drawing in those who have honed their soft skills in other industries will be a benefit, alongside conscious nurturing and development of such skills within research teams.

    The Insight Professional’s Toolkit

    Insights leaders of the future need to be open to adding to their toolkit the skills which allow them to keep up with new technologies. New tech is developing all the time; at present we know this is going to involve building the understanding and ability to use insights from neuroscience and AI technology. Insight leaders might find themselves more frequently involved in analysis of big data which will include a larger percentage of qualitative feedback, whilst increased automation will take some tasks away from researchers.

    Their skills will instead be focussed on accessing deeper level insights and to engaging those who provide them, which will require enhanced communication and customer service skills. The key for insights professionals will be keeping tight hold of their more fundamental and timeless skills, whilst embracing the new.

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